Meet the Artist: Nathan Wiens
Nathan Wiens is the owner and principal visionary behind ChapelArts and an innovative designer who creates wood sculpture, furniture and other installations. He is collaborating with MascallDance on the design for The Outliner, which premieres in July 2016.
A solo Jennifer Mascall made for Ron Stewart called Caribou was my first collaboration with MascallDance. Jennifer asked me to create a forest for Ron to dance in. We planned to print three trees of different colours, and layer them on the safety glasses, so it’d be like 3D glasses – different coloured, semi-transparent vellum, attached to the safety glasses, that the audience would wear during the dance. The fee started at a thousand dollars and then dropped to $300 or something – which wasn’t enough to cover the printing.
It wasn’t enough money to do anything really, so I spent the fee on my concept – “three tree glasses.” So I went and bought safety glasses. Then (if I recall correctly) I think Jennifer came back with cedar twigs she’d cut, which we attached to the safety glasses. The audience would in effect be peeking through the forest. Of course, we had to address the concern of possibly poking an audience member in the eye with the twigs.
When Jennifer asked me to create a forest for Ron, she was very clear. She wanted Ron dancing naked in a forest, and the audience to be peeping toms, through the trees. We started by trying to build these large objects, and then the money got smaller and smaller, and my response was to go Warhol, and have the people wear the glasses. In the end, I remember I didn’t even take a picture of Ron performing the piece, I just took a picture of the audience, it was such a strong image!
My fee was spent on safety glasses. The same theme as often happens in art projects – all the funds, and more, went to materials. I’ve had very many experiences working in the performance field, particularly music and of course dance and performance art. I do that in the Chapel.
People come in to do shows and I’m always their roadie. I was the bass player in the band, you know? I had time to think about other things. So I was always the guy in the band that dealt with the lighting, the props, I did the books. I kept everything organized. So I have a roadie’s heart. I’m showtime guy. I’ve always done that.
In my work here (in our wood studio) I deal with retail. Retail people sign a lease and then they need their store open – it’s show business, all over again!
Fluevog is our biggest client. They’re a blast, the funds are there and it’s very collaborative. They are a big brand and we affect their brand in a big, genuine way. They fly me internationally to their stores. Sometimes I conceptualize before I go. Sometimes there’s a really strong vision.
I don’t do enough work that has no client. I wish I had more work with no client, where I could truly create art from my heart, but I have a history of creating with others, with short deadlines, tiny budgets. I can’t afford to do art all the time. When it comes to dance, it’s certainly not about the budget; it’s all about process.
When I was a kid, I used to be a potter. As the years have gone by, those elements have come back into the woodworking. What we’re doing is using the CNC machine for I call “tunnelling”. We shuffle a deck of all these parts that create shapes out of flat panels – it’s kind of like a topographical map. Like architectural models do the landscape – it’s layers. We do that with wood, on budgets sometimes modest, sometimes grand. We’ve done some interesting large scale pieces with that process in mind.
Originally, when I was approached about The Outliner, I do I wasn’t listening or listening selectively – but I thought I was building a set. OK, I thought, well you’ll tell me what the set’s about, and we’ll just help out by scanning the images and cutting them on the CNC machine.
But then I realized that it was a dress, or a costume! I can only do what I can do with the tools at hand, then push the limits of whatever I have to work with. I had to apply a process to the creation of a dress.
So I latched onto my comfort zone.
The vocabulary of the work that I have been doing has this unique process. And the costume, as you’ll discover, has turned into a playset. We package stores that go across the continent in the same spirit as matrioschka, Russian dolls. One fits inside the other, and they’re all unbelievably efficient: and it comes out of a big stack of plywood. Then you make a crate , 4 feet by 8 feet by 4 feet high; and then we tunnel all this stuff, glue it together and pack it back into a 4 by 8 crate. When it gets to the location, it starts to explode into the space, creating a store. That process is materially efficient and flexible, and we apply it wherever we can.
That was my comfort zone. Others are doing or have done it, I’ve no idea, but it’s mine; it is a process I used to do by hand, then I bought a robot. I don’t even know how to run it, I just have wonderful young people here that know how to run it (Right, Carl (Simmons)?!)
On the Outliner, I applied the process to the problem, and you will see that in its’ packaged form, it is a Russian doll. Robin sent me images of Bauhaus costumes expressing this idea. They have the elements in the studio and are playing with them, and we are I hope going to build the concept in completion, and play with that too, which is wonderful.
I had this notion of being abstract, and of a very formal moment. And it’s a dress. So that’s where my head was. Jennifer teased me that they’d have to give me a choreography credit as well – because I was expressing how this object I created was going to create the process of their performance. That’s what it’s done.
The process they’ve done has led contrary to my original conception. I had a moment of not being sure I liked that. I’m always aware of running around with my blinders in my bubble, and wanting to peel that back and see what I can see – it takes a bit, then it’s all good. But I am also still hopeful that the formal thing will emerge, and I believe I am going to make a second unit for them, assembled to the original format. If not successful, it can be disassembled and used however, and it’s something they can play with. It’s not about the ultimate definition of what they are doing,